on March 20, 2017 by Oscar TK
A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi), or as it’s translated in the opening and closing sequences of the film, The Shape of Voice, is a movie adaptation of the 7 volume manga series by Yoshitoki Ōima. Reiko Yoshida lent her pen to the anime’s script, with K-On! director Naoko Yamada directing. It works wonderfully as a film.
The film’s title, whether taken as A Silent Voice of The Shape of Voice (I think thematically I actually prefer the latter interpretation), is hugely appropriate, as that’s what the movie is all about. Not in terms of literal “voice”, but “communication”. A Silent Voice is all about communication, or perhaps in most cases the lack of it, and how confusing and hard that can be in life, especially for young people growing up.
A Silent Voice is rarely bleak, and always hopeful.
It starts off in elementary school with Shoya Ishida, a rough and seemingly carefree troublemaker, meeting Shoko Nishimiya when she transfers into his class. She’s deaf, and shy as a result. Things start off going okay for her, mainly using her notebook to communicate in written words. Her classmates start nice, but eventually the toil of having to help her understand classes begins to wear on the group. Ishida observes this, but lashes out, using teasing her to gain popularity. Eventually this comes to a head with Nishimiya transferring to another school, and Ishida becoming shunned by his peers.
Years later Ishida is in high school, and is hugely depressed and regretful about his life and his past actions. Eventually, with a sense of having ruined everything in his life, he tries to “put everything back together”, starting with reconnecting with Nishimiya (having learnt sign language at some point after she transferred away). Both Ishida and Nishimiya are quite damaged, and through their reconnection A Silent Voice explores some pretty hefty themes — isolation, depression, self-harm. Despite this it’s a movie that is rarely bleak, and always hopeful.
The shape of Ishida’s voice is cut-up, unable to focus on other people’s eyes.
Because of his depression Ishida has trouble connecting with almost everyone else, especially when it comes to his high school. The faces around him are literally impossible to look at, represented by them being covered with “crosses”. Frequently during Ishida’s interactions with others we just see shots of their arms, their legs, their feet. Shots with Ishida are frequently framed “off”, the characters not quite fitting into frame, or groups being “cut off” in different shots despite being right next to each other. It’s very smartly done, and an effective way of getting across that sense of lack of comfort through direction and framing alone. The shape of Ishida’s voice is cut-up, unable to focus on other people’s eyes.
Nishimiya, even after she transferred, is still going through a lot. She may be shy, but has a quiet frustration at the world in her inability to easily communicate. The film’s score and audio mix represent “her side” a bit more — some distorted, piercing sound effects, and occasional drops to absolute silence. The music is beautiful, and frequently gives way to bouts of chaos and distortion, perhaps the sort of sounds she would experience.
A Silent Voice is hugely warm and colourful.
Compared to the manga, the art of the movie is a bit softer. While the character designs are still detailed, they inhabit a very realistic feeling Japanese urban city. The water in which the carp that Nishimiya loves to feed swim looks so gorgeous you almost feel like you could jump right in yourself. So too do the characters feel real. While they can sometimes seem frustrating or annoying, you never find their actions to be unbelievable. That’s just sometimes the way youth is.
While there are a lot of heavy issues, A Silent Voice is hugely warm and colourful. There’s a tonne of laugh out loud comedy moments, and a lot of points where you’ll want to smile at just how cute it is. If anything these moments help to emphasise some of the more desperate and upsetting ones. Life is often a mix of both, after all.
It’s a charming and cute story that handles some difficult topics, but does so in a super palatable way without really making any grand judgements about it — just allowing the characters to breathe it and live it. A Silent Voice is a definite must-watch.